What is the Diversity Visa Program?

Students walk past police line tape on their way to school a day after a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path alongside the Hudson River in New York City, in New York, U.S. November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

RALEIGH – President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he planned to end a diversity lottery program that he said the Uzbek immigrant suspected of killing eight people in New York City used to get into the United States.

“Today we mourn the horrifying terrorist attack in New York City, just blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center,” Trump said during a meeting with his cabinet at the White House.

“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program. I’m going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

On the morning after the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 9/11, the Diversity Visa Program, signed into law in 1990, is in the spotlight. On Tuesday afternoon, investigators say an Uzbek immigrant drove a rental truck down a riverfront bike path killing eight people and injuring a dozen others. The attacker appears to have acted alone, inspired by ISIS directives. Authorities say the Halloween Day attack had all the hallmarks of terrorism.

The attacker, identified as Sayfullo Saipov, 29, reportedly left a note claiming allegiance to Islamic State and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is greatest” – when he jumped out of his truck. He was shot and injured by a New York City police officer. He underwent surgery at a local hospital.

Investigators say that Saipov’s immigration status is unclear and he does not appear to be a U.S. citizen. He reportedly entered the U.S. on a Diversity Visa in 2010.

The Diversity Visa Program is administered by the Department of State and selects non-citizens from low immigration countries to obtain a visa through a lottery system.  It was passed as part of the broader Immigration Act of 1990, introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-NY) and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The diversity visa amendment to the bill was authored and sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the current Senate minority leader.

The program awards up to 50,000 immigration visas annually, drawn randomly from a pool of nearly 14 million people who apply for them. The applicants must be from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.  and have two years of work experience. Most lottery winners reside outside of the United States. The U.S. Attorney General’s office determines which countries qualify as “low” rates of immigration. The spouse and children of the lottery winners are also given visas.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump criticized the nation’s diversity visa in the wake of Tuesday’s truck attack, blaming Democrats and pressing a ‘merit based’ program for immigrants to the U.S.

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter, referring to the Senate Democratic leader.

The Diversity Visa Lottery has been targeted for criticism by Republicans for years.  In August, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Sen. David Purdue (R-GA) sponsored a bill with Trump’s support that would end the Diversity Visa Program and institute reforms to immigration. Under the new bill, known as the RAISE Act, the U.S. would prioritize high-skilled immigrants by setting up a merits-based system similar to those used by Canada and Australia.

The New York Stock Exchange held a moment of silence Wednesday in honor of Tuesday’s victims of the terror attack.

Five of the dead were Argentine tourists, visiting New York as part of a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their graduation, the government there said. Belgium’s foreign minister said a Belgian citizen was also among those killed.

Despite the attack, thousands of costumed Halloween revelers turned out hours later for New York City’s main Halloween parade, which went on as scheduled on Tuesday night with a heightened police presence just a few blocks away.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said police will be out in force to protect the city’s marathon, which is scheduled for Sunday. “You’ll see a lot of officers with long guns. Other things you won’t see that are protecting us,” he told MSNBC.

Trump said on Twitter that he had ordered Homeland Security officials to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”